Thursday, October 31, 2013


 The warmth of the mid-day sun yesterday coaxed me up to Cape Spear Path, East Coast Trail for what may be my last hike in this area for the season. It was my hope to see some woodland birds.
 When I rounded a bend on the boardwalk, I espied this big bird sitting atop a tree. We locked eyes. I raised my camera; he lifted off. Wow! It flew in my direction. I had a quick recollection of  a story told by Butterpot Park Ranger Keith Brown wherein a Northern Goshawk attacked one of their workers. They used a hockey helmet to get the young woman to safety. A helmet? I didn't even have a hoodie!
 This immature Northern Goshawk (note the talons) didn't want to leave the area. It circled over my head, flew south, turned around, flew back over my head, flew north, turned around and came back again!
 It must have had its eye on lunch when I arrived. Without doubt, I got the longest look ever at this great bird.
In the meantime, all of its circling over the area must have driven all of the small birds into hiding. In over an hour, I was only able to see two juncos.

Note: There was a flock of about 25 flighty Snow Buntings flitting around all over Cape Spear. Terry J. reported seeing one Savannah Sparrow in the area. Aside from a few Black Guillemots, some still in breeding plumage, and a few Northern Gannets, there was nothing of note in the waters off the cape. There were about 30 + juncos in the bus turnaround at Blackhead. I stayed quite a while and the only other birds seen in the area were American Goldfinch and Golden- crowned Kinglets.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Odd bird in Goulds

 The constant, ever-changing, swirling winds that envelope Newfoundland often bring in some delightful birds, particularly at this time of the year. We are beginning to see dribs and drabs of rare birds turn up all around us.
 One of the unique places to see some rarities is in Goulds. There, the recently-plowed, freshly "manured" farm fields have previously attracted some great birds like a Sandhill Crane, Pink-footed Goose, European Golden Plover and more. After unsuccessfully chasing birds in St. John's on Sunday, I took a drive to Goulds. I found one field alive with birds: 200 American Crows and Common Ravens, 100 Rock Dove and more than 1000 European Starling. They were in a frenzy in and around the field. I stopped and scanned the area hoping there might be just one out-of-place bird. I didn't see one.

 However, I did come across something very interesting in another field. It was such a curious bird. As I drove along Old Bay Bulls Road, I spotted a medium size bird hovering over a field. It looked familiar ... like a Belted Kingfisher fluttering over a pond. Wasting precious moments when I realized a kingfisher would never be over a field, I stopped, wrestled to get my camera out from under my coat and managed to fire three shots. By this time the bird had flown. It was heading across the road and into the trees. This made my pictures even more distant.
What I could discern was that it looked bluish, was about the size of a kingfisher, made no noise and flew without provocation. The first picture above is the best one I got. This second photo looks something like a hawk or falcon, but not so much with the first photo.

I have sent these two smudges to Dave and Bruce, and neither one could make much sense of them. Anyway, this is a very curious bird. Anyone travelling in the Goulds area near the Old Bay Bulls Road and the Main Road south junction, keep an eye out for this unusual bird. It would be so nice to know what it is.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A "Twitchy" Day

 When yesterday morning broke and I realized it was going to be a crisp, calm Fall morning, I had to go out. Resisting the temptation to head to the southern shore to see the birds reported the day before, I decided I would just clean up on the birds already reported in St. John's.
 I twitched right on over to Virginia Lake to see Lancy's Bufflehead where I ran into David S.. The Bufflehead was a no-show. Wanting to get  to the lake early enough to see the duck meant being there before the little birds started to move around. There was not even a chickadee around.
 That was okay. I just "twitched" straight to Mundy Pond to see Gene's female Red-wing Blackbird. I "hauled" on by boots and headed toward the island. With water levels sitting one inch below the top of my boots, I tread gingerly through the cold water.  I got to the island, and there was not one single bird. Hmm. I hung around the area a bit and heard the Greater Yellowlegs and saw an unidentified, small bird fly into the tall grass but couldn't coax it out.
 I walked on around the pond where I ran into Les and Todd heading in to see the blackbird. I wished them good luck and continued my walk.
 Twenty minutes later when I returned to my car, I found their cars still in the parking lot, and Allison's car had joined the group. Birders were filling up the lot. Since Todd and Les stayed so long, I thought maybe they found the blackbird, so I headed back to the lagoon area.
 There stood Les in the tall grass peering into the cattails. With a grin on his face and a photo of the Red-winged Blackbird in his camera, he tried to help Allison and me to see the bird. No luck.
 I drove on to Goulds where I came across a couple of interesting sights that I can share at another time.
 My morning evaporated, and I headed home. The worst thing to do if you need to stay home is to look on NF Birds. Unable to help myself, I took a peek. What? Todd had found a Nashville and Orange-crowned Warbler at Virginia River, and Bruce had a Great Blue Heron at the St. John's Harbour. "Twitching" time again!
 I rushed over to Virginia River to try to see the warblers. The only creatures on two legs I found there were Catherine listening for small birds and Bruce with his scope trained on the ducks in the lake. No warblers anywhere to be found!
My last and best "twitch" of the day turned out to be at the harbour where I did get to see this great, Great Blue Heron. It seemed to have perked up from its earlier tired posture reported by Bruce. It flew twice while Madonna and I strained to get good looks and pictures through the chain-link fence. It was clearly showing signs of hunger and was looking around for anything suitable to eat. There was nothing edible in the area, and I commented I don't think he will stay long. It didn't surprise me when Bruce reported the heron to be gone at 5 p.m. It left in search of food. I reached the harbour just in the "twitch" of time to enjoy seeing this beautiful bird. Now, the question is...shall I "twitch" today or not?

Friday, October 25, 2013

2013: Twenty-seven Warbler Species and Counting - Updated

 With wood warblers being my favorite birds, I thought I would take a little extra time to prepare this post. I actually set out to provide pictures of the last sighting of each species I saw. In a couple of cases, the first sighting was the last. Basically, that approach to the post proved to be a little more challenging than I expected.
 So in the process of collecting images, I did take note of the date of the photo. However, they are not necessarily the last time I saw the species this year. It seems that in the St. John's area, warblers were already scarce by September 15. Fortunately, a day of birding the southern shore on September 21 extended the enjoyment a little longer.
 While sorting pictures, I found two shots of the Black and White I wanted to share and three of the Yellow-rumped Warbler. However, there is only one shot of each of the other species. Be sure to click on a photo to see enlarged images and enjoy the parade of Newfoundland's 2013 Warblers.
 So far, I have seen 21 species of wood warblers this year. There may be more yet to be found in the weeks to come. Around this time of the year, one or two particularly rare warblers for our part of the world show up and take up residency along Rennie's River, at Kelly's Brook or along the lower Waterford River. Some previous rarities found in the fall in these areas include a Kentucky Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Townsend's Warbler and other species including Cape May Warbler and Pine Warblers have appeared at feeders. I can hardly wait to see what might show up this year.
 Of the warblers I saw this year, two were life birds for me: A Blackburnian and a Canada Warbler. As I look at the long list of warblers found in the province over the years, there are still 11 species left for me to see. A trip to the west coast of the province at the right time in late spring next year may provide an opportunity to see some of these.
 Birds pictured here are fairly common. They include in the order they are shown: American Redstart; Black and White; Black-throated Green; Blackburnian; Blackpoll; Common Yellowthroat; Yellow-rumped Warbler; and Magnolia.
 These warblers are followed by: A Mourning Warbler; Northern Waterthrush; Palm Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Wilson's; Yellow; and Yellow-breasted Chat.

 The most common warbler seen in spring, summer and very early fall is the Yellow-rumped Warbler. These two shots provide variations of this species.

Then, this collage provides photos of other birds I saw or were seen by others this year. From left to right - Row 1: I was lucky to each of these three: Tennessee; Canada and Townsend Warblers.

Row 2: An Ovenbird, a Pine Warbler and a Yellow-throated Warbler. While I only saw the Pine Warbler this year, I drew from my record shots to show the other two birds. Dave Brown reported an Overbird on Cuckhold's Cove Trail. I can't recall the details of a report of the Yellow-throated Warbler other than it was seen on the southern shore.

Row 3: The Northern Parula which I didn't see this year was found by Mary and Madonna. What a great find! The Orange-crowned Warbler stayed around downtown for only a few days into the new year.

Beyond pictures available in my stock, there were two great warblers not shown here. Anne Hughes found a Prothonotary Warbler in Trepassey and Dave Brown reported a Bay-breasted Warbler in Bear Cove. There may be others I have missed here. Further details can be obtained by sifting through all of the posts on NFBirds as there is no complete resource to generate a list. Not all warblers have been reported on eBird. If anyone knows of others I have missed, please share.

Over the last three days, two more warbler species have been spotted in St. John's and on the Southern Shore. These include a Cape May Warbler and a Nashville. I have yet to see them this year so these images were taken from my record shots. Let's hope they just keep coming.

I wonder how 26 compares to counts of previous years.

Number 27: VIRGINIA WARBLER! This is a big one!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Conception Bay Harbour: Sunken Ship Confusion

 For over two years my post regarding the S.S. Sposa has been among the top ten articles accessed by readers. The last two weeks saw a jump in numbers, making me curious. Why now? Well, when I got The Telegram on Monday and saw the cover story, it was obvious. An unsettling report by the Shipwreck Preservation Society of NL uncovered the truth about what vessel is really "hulking" the harbour. It's not the S.S. Sposa, as so many thought for so many years. For me, this new information actually raises more questions than it answers.
Wanting to know more sent me into a frenzy of Internet research to locate a story that supports those findings. What I found could hardly fill a shot glass. Why is there so little information available about the Hawke Harbour whaling fleet under the command of Captain Johan Borgen. The absence of information on the Net explains why so many people are landing on my website. My blog comes up in the top five listings using a variety of search engines. Among the other top five items, is the news release about the recent underwater research. To me, this means, I need to strive to provide accurate information regarding this ship I first saw two years ago.
By word of mouth and multiple pictures of the bow protruding out of the water in Conception Bay Harbour, I concluded the ship was the S.S. Sposa. That was the general belief of many for years.  I wonder how that could be.
With the new information regarding the whale catcher visible in the harbour, I began to collect the little information I could find. Starting with the S.S. Sposa,  I was able to determine it was built as a whaler at Smith's Dock Company, South Bank in the UK. It was launched on May 10, 1926 to its first owner South Georgia Company, Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. It worked as a whaler until it was requisitioned into anti-submarine service from April 1940 to July 1945. Following its military service, it seemed to have fallen off the radar for a while. In November 1956 is was purchased by the Hawke Harbour Whaling Company in St. John's, Newfoundland and went into service under the command of Capt. J. Borgen. Smith's Dock Company Ltd. reports the S.S. Sposa was scuttled 6 miles from Conception Harbour, Newfoundland.

The other four ships in the Hawke Harbour Whaling fleet were the SS Southern Foam, SS Sukha, SS Charcot and the SS Soika.  The Southern Foam was launched in August 1926 and abandoned in Conception Bay. In 1959 this ship was damaged when it struck a sunken rock. It was then tied up in Conception Bay Harbour, repaired and put back into service. According to Smith's Dock Company, the S.S. Southern Foam   was sold to Dominion Metals as scrap in 1970.
 Somehow a sixth ship got mixed up in the whaling fleet.  In a paper by Dennis Flynn: "The Story of the Conception Harbour Shipwrecks and the Last Whaler," he reported the S.S. Southern Chief was a part of this fleet. It seems it was not. I attempted  to relocate the paper I read about two years ago, and I can no longer find it on the Internet. The story of the S.S. Southern Chief , according to Smith's Dock Company records, indicates this whaler was also launched in August 1926, but this ship never joined the Hawke Harbour Whaling Company and was stripped of its fittings and scuttled off S. Georgia in February 1961.  So what was the name of the fifth ship? With input from Capt. Borgen's daughter, I learned the S.S. Soika was the fifth boat.

Smith's Dock Co. reports the S.S. Soika was launched in July 1925. It was also reported this ship was on Admiralty Requisition and served as a minesweeper from 1940 to 1945. In 1956, like the other four whalers in the fleet, the S.S. Soika joined the Hawke Harbour fleet.  Also according to Smith's Dock Co., in the end this ship was towed 6 miles from Conception Bay Harbour and scuttled in 1968.

Smith's Dock Company further reports on the fourth ship in the fleet; the S.S. Sukha was launched in June 1929 and joined the Hawke Harbour fleet in 1956. Four years later it was reportedly "laid up" in Harbour Grace. In 1968, it is reported the S.S. Sukha broke its moorings and became stranded in Conception Bay Harbour. Then in 1971, it is said, it was broken up for metal by the Dominion Metal Ltd. of Canada. (It seems that is not the case.)

That brings us to the last ship in the fleet: The S.S. Charcot. Where did this ship come from? I have turned the "net" upside down, and there is no mention of this ship being built. Is it possible it was launched under another name and renamed (as many ships were) sometime along the way. There is no mention of the S.S. Charcot being associated with the Hawke Harbour fleet except by Capt. Borgen's daughter and Scuba Quest. On their website Scuba Quest website indicates it is the S.S. Southern Foam rising out of the water, and that the S.S. Sukha and the S.S. Charcot are resting under water nearby. (In another post relating to this story, a blogger has attached a link to Google earth that shows the outline of the other two sunken vessels - very interesting.) On two diving websites, I found reports the S.S. Sposa and the S.S. Soika were scuttled only a mile out from the harbour.

Now - the latest news: The Shipwreck Preservation team report definitively it is the S.S. Charcot looming large over Conception Bay Harbour, and it is the S.S. Southern Foam and the S.S. Sukha that are resting under water nearby.  It is thought the other two ships, the S.S. Sposa and the S.S. Soika sank further out in the harbour when they were being towed to a scrapyard. Perhaps, the Dominion Metals company has more information about this event. Smith's Dock Company reports the S. S. Soika to have been dismantled and the S.S. Sposa to have been scuttled six miles from the harbour. But then again, they also reported the Southern Foam was sold as scrap in 1970 and the S.S. Sukha was broken up for metal in 1971. It seems that didn't happen. However, this company seems to have been correct about the S. S. Sposa and the S.S. Soika being towed out and scuttled about six miles from the harbour.

And so, there it is - all the info I could find on the internet. To say I am baffled is an understatement. There were so few references to these whale catchers, and each one seemed to contradict the other. What is even more confounding is that there must surely be living people who worked on or around these ships. The last activities relating to their end was only 45 years ago.  Then, there is the next generation. Where is the oral history relating to these historical whaling vessels. The whaling  history in Conception Bay has much potential as a tourist destination, but the real history has to be ferreted out and soon, while there are surely people still around who can fill in the gaps and the facts of what really happened to these five ships. If any of these ships were scrapped as reported by the boat builder, there must be records at Dominion Metals. Ltd. I find myself wondering if a visit to the NL Archives might be in order to get the real truth of J. Borgen's fleet. Are there any photos of these ships in their heyday? Are there any relics from these ships remaining?

All too often, the value and quality of historical events are back-benched until it is too late to really compile an accurate account. The inconsistent reporting currently available really adds to the confusion. I think, rightly or wrongly, the best place to begin is to gather the oral reports of anyone and everyone associated with these ships. It would also be very interesting to hear personal accounts of the final years of the whaling industry in Newfoundland. Because of the lack of information and consistency in reporting, I find myself very interested in this little slice of Newfoundland's history.

I invite anyone with additional information to please leave a comment or to send me an e-mail through the contact section on the bottom right of this screen.

My original report on the ship in Conception Bay is here:

Other sources referenced are:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Few Pine Siskins

 Since this is the time of the year when some of the rarest of the rare arrive in Newfoundland, I have been going out regularly to check some of the better and lesser-known haunts of these vagrants. While I have come upon some fairly interesting pockets of bird that look like they should yield some good birds, the best have been Red-eyed Vireo and Baltimore Orioles. Not bad birds, but it is not uncommon birds I am seeking. The winds seems to have sucked up the woodland breeders and whisked them away suddenly. They are just gone! The woods are empty.
The number of finches is also low. I have seen only a few Purple Finch, a few more American Goldfinch, and a few Pine Siskins here and there. There is certainly plenty of food for them this year, but there must be a lot of food along the route as well. While it is nice to have a walk in the brightly-colored woods these days, it is really quite lonely.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time for an Indigo Bunting

 Yesterday morning was what I consider ideal conditions for a half-day of  Fall birding around Cape Spear. The temp was just above freezing, the sun was shining and the winds were low.
 For one reason or another, it had been several days since I was out, so I was eager to get going. With a few checks, I decided the Indigo Bunting was the best hope of the day.
 Just before reaching Blackhead, I spotted Dave Brown. I pulled over on the side of the road before reaching him, just in case he had something good in his sights. I watched for a while and realized it was safe to proceed.
 After exchanging morning greetings, I told him I was out to find an Indigo Bunting. As usual, he offered encouragement. Just up the road I ran into another birder (clearly, others thought it was a perfect morning for birding.)
 Blackhead was unusually quiet, so I moved on toward Cape Spear. Dave and I were playing leap frog. I would see him and move up the road further and vice versa. I last saw  him near the edge of the trees before the expanse below Cape Spear. I decided to move on and walk to the point. I was only half way down the hill, when my phone rang.
 Dave announced he had found an Indigo Bunting and came to the Cape to get me. I hurried back up the hill and returned to the area with Dave. Indeed, with a little patience, the Indigo Bunting showed itself again. How good was that! I thought for a moment, and then with a grin told Dave, "I'm looking for a Bobolink, now."
On my way back to town, these two birds flew over my car and into the distance. I was only able to get one shot of them before they disappeared. I have cropped the image to bring both birds closer together. This shot provides very little to base an ID on, but my best guess of what these two birds might be is Pine Grosbeak. Why? Well, there were two birds meaning they are probably not that rare. They were about the size of a robin. They look quite gray in the pictures and there is a notched tail. Right or wrong, I think these are Pine Grosbeaks.